I took a train from Bucharest, Romania to Gorna Orjahovica in Bulgaria where I befriended a Japanese man named Ari while waiting for our connecting bus to Veliko Tarnovo, which dropped us at the railway station outside of the medieval town. We decided to walk to our hostel, first across the highway, then through weird passageways, then up a hill to the edge of the town centre.
About an hour in, we stopped to look at Ari’s map and make sure we were going in the right direction. A couple of Bulgarians, Miro and Alex, saw us foreigners with our big backpacks and asked us if we needed help. After looking at our map, they decided that the distance was too far to walk and offered to drive us to the hostel. Tired and sweaty, we gratefully accepted at this point and it was a fortunate turn of events because after the ride, we figured we’d be walking at least another 40 minutes to get to the hostel. We also got a brief history lesson and a mini-tour of the city on the way there.
If this was any indication of the interactions I’ll have in Bulgaria, I’m sure I’ll love it here. The hospitality in the Balkans never fails to surprise or inspire…
Two days ago in Mandalay, I literally sunk to a new low and had the most embarrassing moment of my life (at least this year).
What I’ll write is that when you’re getting from one temple to another and you think about crossing (what you think is) a wide ditch against the cries of some Myanmar people who try to direct you 10 metres over to your left to a bamboo footpath, follow their advice! Because the ditch was actually a moat and I ended up knee deep in murky, disgusting, sewer-like water while fighting to stay on my feet.
A couple locals helped me up while I struggled to maintain my balance. One man repaired my flip-flops, and another man took me across the street to a restaurant where he poured water from a big bucket over my pants, my legs, my feet, and my hands. A girl that worked there gave me soap so I could disinfect. There were a lot of onlookers and while I was laughing at myself at the absurdity of my situation, they just smiled politely and wished me well. I got a lesson in humility but I learned even more about class. Helpless and vulnerable, I was the recipient of mercy and compassion.
When you travel, you remember a day for different reasons – sometimes, it’s being somewhere indescribably beautiful; sometimes, it’s doing something you’ve never done before. In this instance, it’s because of how I was treated by these people of Myanmar and one more reason why I love this country.
“It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Excerpt from Le Petit Prince.
One year ago today (1 May), I left home in Canada to embark on my journey of journeys. I learned early on to follow my heart and resolved to follow my own path and not be confined to live a certain way based on perceived norms of society.
314 days out of the last year and 30 countries later, I’m still going strong and continue to be astounded that what was for so long only a dream continues to be my reality.
It’s been a veritable roller coaster, often fun and funny and at times downright terrifying, but one where I’ve dictated where to go and allowed myself to ascend to new heights, not to mention overcoming some very low times. From the outset, I already knew that it was going to be awesome. But I could not possibly have predicted the specific encounters I’d come across that truly showed me how magical life could be. With a strange precision, my path has often converged with others who have shared part of my journey, even if sometimes only for a fleeting instant.
What beauty that I’ve met people who have given me such positivity, new ideas, love and warmth, hospitality and generosity to degrees I don’t deserve. Invisible and intangible, they fill my heart.